Heroin Hits Home: More Newborns Beginning Life as Addicts

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CLEVELAND-- It's a sound that breaks your heart: Babies who cry in MetroHealth's NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit where the sickest newborns are brought for care.

They cry for many reasons, but some cry because they were born addicted to heroin.

"What I know about withdrawal, it is extremely uncomfortable," said Dr. Deepak Kumar, one of the neonatologists who do the heroic work every day trying to wean these babies from their addictions.

"The dependence, so to speak, starts in the womb," Dr. Kumar said. "They are difficult to control. They are frantic."

The babies are born addicted because their mothers were addicted.

And, while by law MetroHealth Medical Center can't say which babies are addicted, the overall numbers reflect that the heroin/opiate pill epidemic sweeping Ohio is out of control.

In 2001, Metro reported seeing less than ten pregnant moms who had a heroin or opiate addiction.

By 2008, that number was 22.

In 2011, it tripled again to 66.

And, last year, Metro saw 98 pregnant moms with those addictions.

Dr. Jennifer Bailit, who runs Metro's Women & Children Patient Care Unit, calls the numbers an "explosion" and said the problems are widespread.

"We see a continuum, from moms who are on pills, and maybe that's gotten away from them, to women who've graduated from pills and are on IV use of heroin," she said.

Dr. Bailit said the knowledge that their babies are heroin-dependent sometimes has a profound impact.

"Sometimes, pregnant women who are addicted or dependent really have sort of a wake-up moment," she said. "And say 'this is not who I want to be; this is not the mother I want to be.'"

Dr. Bailit said Metro stresses, "We can't fix the past, but we're going to help you have a bright future."

A leading national pain expert, Dr. Ed Covington at the Cleveland Clinic, said the problem has exploded in large part because doctors have over-prescribed opiates: the painkillers that are heroin's legal cousins that have names such as Oxycodone and Oxycontin.

Dr. Covington said some research done a generation ago suggested that people who took opiates for pain were less likely to get addicted than those who used heroin for fun.

That turned out to be dead wrong.

"At national medical meetings, we were being told that, if our patients were still in pain, it was because of our own cowardice, that we were just too timid to use the doses of opioids required to make folks comfortable," Dr. Covington said.

"I really believe American physicians have been, not uneducated, but mal-educated," he said, before adding, "We've been fed a pack of lies."

The doctors at Metro said they have noticed an increase in the number of pregnant moms who started out addicted to pills.

And heroin addictions are one of the hardest addictions to beat, in part, because withdrawal can be so painful, like the worst flu you've ever had, that addicts crave another hit just to get through the day.

In the Metro NICU, doctors "score" babies for how addicted they are, then actually give the infants smaller and smaller amounts of opiates, trying to wean them off their addictions as gently as possible.

"Every day is different," Dr. Kumar said. "We win some and we lose some."

They win more than they lose, but they are seeing more and more addicted babies each and every year.

Many of the babies are covered by government insurance at a cost of about $3,500 a day.

And that says nothing about the tragic human cost of beginning life addicted to heroin through no fault of your own.

To learn more about MetroHealth Medical Center's 'Mother and Child Dependency Program,' CLICK HERE.

The birth of his first daughter motivated a man named Jeremy Taugner to get off pills and heroin and start a support group called "C.A.R.E" in Portage County. CLICK HERE for more on this organization.

*Web extra: Watch Bill's extended interview with Dr. Covington below*

**Wednesday on FOX 8 News at 6 p.m., How do people fight back against pain or addiction? Bill Sheil will take you inside a remarkably successful pain therapy program at the Cleveland Clinic and show you the heroic efforts of people setting up their own therapy groups, trying to get addicts the help they desperately need.

For more on this week’s series, click here.


  • Clara

    I just want to say it is about time this drug issue is addressed. Needs to be more help for addicts who are trying to clean their selves up and get drug free. There are way to many deaths/suicides as a result . No money no help.

  • Tsmiyh

    Once your already dependent on drugs and don’t plan a pregnancy but it happens and if you don’t have the resources available to you to quit you can’t just do it on your own.. It’s not like the pregnant woman wake up everyday wanting to do that to their babies..

  • lindz

    In my opinion addicts are a low life form and should be allowed to kill themselves off. I dont find it right that everyone else is paying $3500 day/ addicted baby, these worthless mothers who have these babies should be paying! Those mothers shouldnt be allowed to have those babies back either!

  • Kathy Shepherd

    lindz: I’m grateful that you don’t have any addiction issues however, you have a very narrow view of addiction. It is not a choice you make, it choses you. There is no rule saying only poor people have addiction issues. I know Doctors, Lawyers, nurses and social workers that have struggled with addiction and won the battle. I guess they are low lifes in your eyes too!

    • meg

      Wrong! Its a choice that almost all addicts make. So the guy who decides to take an Oxy that is not prescribed to him is innocent? Not at all! The real victims are the children and other family members that have to pick up the pieces and rebuild what these addicts have destroyed! Its time the excuses and enabling stops and real help is given.

    • lindz

      Trust me i dont have a narrow view on addiction. It is a choice that every individual makes for themselves. I do speak from personal experience, my husband had a problem and at that point in time he was a low life. Luckily he overcame it but i still cant forgive him for the stupid things that he did. I never said it was a poor persons problem only, learn how to read.

  • karen shaffalo

    drug abuse is a choice you make…no one forces you to take drugs but an innocent baby cannot make a choice

  • Daniel ricket

    I myself have been addicted, for 10 years. Now all that I want is to reach out and help. I could not wish heroin addiction on my worst enemy. My faith has brought me peace, and I’m willing to go to great lengths to help

  • Kerili

    Drug addiction is a CHOICE. And it is a “low life” lifestyle to live. I do not have a narrow view of addiction. I am an addict. This June will be 8 years clean. Because I CHOSE to STOP and seek a better life my beautiful 5 year old and 4 year old are living the dream with me. Wake up. Drug addiction not only destroys your life–but the lives around you.

  • Heather Lauren Flak

    I was one of those Mothers. I had my daughter Karma Nevaeh in June 2013 and used Heroin until May. I was told that I couldn’t quit cold turkey so I got on a program. I have been clean 10 months and my daughter had NO withdraw because nothing I did ever crossed my placenta I am one of the lucky/blessed ones. She was negative for the medicine on her tox screen and the docs explained it to me. I recently was terminated from children services for completing everything that I was asked to do and continue to provide clean drug and alcohol tests. My daughter and I are doing great and I’m grateful for Metro and The Clinic for providing the services to accomplish my goals!!!! I now have my life back as well as a wonderful relationship with my family which not to long ago I destroyed. It took me 16 years of doing drugs and drinking to wake up and get clean but I’m grateful that I did and was able to do it as young as I am (28) some people are addicted 50,60,70 years if they make it that long. I am living a beautiful life and wouldn’t trade it for the world!!!

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